By  on March 26, 2007

PARIS — Capitalizing on robust demand for leather goods, an array of players — from luxury to fast-fashion — are raising their retail profile in Europe and beyond, some wielding new product lines.

Earlier this month, British leather goods firm Mulberry opened its second location in the French capital, a 1,300-square-foot unit at 206 Rue Saint-Honoré that stocks leather goods and clothing. The brand, which counts 30 stand-alone stores, next will be targeting Glasgow in June and Hong Kong in October and is asserting its presence in the travel retail sector, having just opened two units in London's Heathrow airport.

Artisanal French bag brand Jamin Puech also is branching out, having opened two new European stores last month: one on Milan's Via Solferino and another here on Rue Cambon, in Fifi Chachnil's former boutique, with stacks of fresh hay as a quirky wall display.

Jamin Puech also will be opening a store in London in July and, having outgrown its premises on Elizabeth Street, is scouting a roomier New York location, with a possible opening in Los Angeles in view.

"We want to limit distribution to our own stores to cultivate an atmosphere that's particular to the brand," said designer Isabelle Puech, adding that new footwear, furniture and clothing lines are also in the pipeline.

"We receive a lot of customer demand for complimentary accessories such as embroidered scarves," said co-designer Benoit Jamin, citing a turnover of around $9 million for 2006.

The move comes at a time during which there is high demand for accessories overall, and handbags and leather goods, in particular. These brands are looking to expand in a market where there are well-established giants such Louis Vuitton, Hermès and Coach.

Footwear maker Giuseppe Zanotti is holding out until couture week in July to fete its new boutique on Avenue Montaigne, which opened March 19, its third location in the French capital. The 500-square-foot, two-level boutique comes dotted with Chinese antiques set against a minimalist decor.

Last month marked the opening of Zanotti's first London-based boutique, a 500-square-foot location on Watton Street. A second freestanding store is slated to bow on London's Sloane Street in May, and Zanotti will be doubling the size of its Madison Avenue store in June."We're in an aggressive growth period…[and are seeking] to open strategically placed mono-brand stores in key international centers, in particular markets such as the Middle East and Southeast Asia," said Nicole Taylor, Zanotti's worldwide commercial director.

To date, the brand counts 35 stores, and 25 of them are franchises.

A fully fledged bag line is also in sight, to be released within the year. To that end, Taylor said the firm is scouting a strong bag designer to ensure a credible entry and the possibility of building the category to around 20 percent of its business, which last year totaled $80 million.

Accessible brands are upping the profile of their leather goods, too.

Earlier this month, Guess opened its first-ever shoe store at 64 Rue François 1er. Sales of leather goods represent roughly 70 percent of Guess' accessories business, compared with 30 percent from shoes, introduced in 2005.

Total accessories sales for Europe last year totaled $90 million and that figure is expected to rise to around $130 million this year, said Stéphane Labelle, managing director of accessories for Guess Europe.

"We predict footwear will eventually represent more than leather goods in terms of sales, as women spend more easily on shoes," he said. "We'll be introducing shoe stores aggressively internationally with openings planned for the States over the next six months," he said.

Spanish retailer Mango also is making inroads in the accessories market.

After opening its first accessories-only Mango Touch boutique in Madrid in 2005, selling bags, shoes, jewelry and glasses, it followed up with new outlets in Cannes and Toulouse over the last month and is headed for Paris soon.

Contemporary sportswear brand Cacharel also is seeking to up visibility in the category by establishing accessories-only corners in department stores, a project that also has been tested in Asia. "Today, accessories represent 15 percent of sales and our aim is to push that up to 30 percent," said a spokeswoman for the brand, which will unveil its first European accessories corner at Liberty in London this fall.

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